Over a year ago, my mother-in-law started the annulment process. She had good reason for it, but none of us had any idea – despite Father’s attempts at warning her – just how draining it would be for her. In my role as a parish employee and her daughter-in-law, I saw how it was going from the inside. I also saw that she needed it, so that she could move on with her life. I saw some of her children confused about just why she needed it so much, but that’s not really my concern (until they come to me with it).
Almost a year into the process, she recognized that the man she had been dating was in fact someone she wanted to marry. They met with Father, she debated. And within five minutes (or that’s how it seemed to all of us who don’t live in her head), they were at the court house getting married.
Since then, my mother-in-law has not stopped attending Mass. She’s there for at least three daily Masses and every single weekend Mass. Her husband’s not a Catholic (yet – I have my suspicions as to how that will turn out), and sometimes he accompanies her and sometimes not, but he always shows the highest respect for her love of her faith.
Because she got married before the annulment proceedings were finished and approved, she has not been receiving communion. She is, in fact, out of communion with the Church. I’ve had a few parishioners come up to me, and I know MIL has gotten some interesting comments too.
“Sarah, why is she not receiving communion? She’s such a good person. That’s just stupid old Church teaching. The Church needs to get with it.”
“Sarah, I saw your mother-in-law at Mass last weekend. I was so touched. I have been praying for her annulment.”
“Sarah, I can’t believe your mother-in-law would want to go against the Church. Why couldn’t she just wait to get married? Why does she still come to Mass if she’s out of communion with the Church?”
MIL has shared some of the other comments she has received, and some of them have shown me how much catechesis we really need to do about divorce and remarriage (great information about what an annulment is and what the Church teaches is at Deo Omnis Gloria), about how charity is a selective filter so many of us use and discard, and about what an example we can make through our actions.
Why did she proceed with the annulment? MIL loves Jesus. Period. That is why she is obeying His Church, His Bride. This love she has for Jesus makes her ache for Him. She wants the Eucharist very badly. She feels empty, like she’s missed a lot of meals. So she kneels at Mass, when everyone else goes up to receive Jesus, and she cries. The tears make two perfect lines down her face. Sometimes, she shakes. And anyone who sees her and is not moved, does not feel a pang of conscience and compassion, has a harder heart than I do.
A few weeks ago, she got a letter saying the annulment was approved, but that there was one more step. The first thing she did was cry (me too). The second thing she did was start a countdown to when she can go to confession and receive the Eucharist.
Watching my MIL, who was such an important part of my own conversion, be without her lifeblood has been a lesson to me about the Eucharist. It’s been a lesson for quite a few people in our parish too. My MIL has shared with me her worry for people in our parish: “Sarah, what about these poor people who are going up to receive communion and shouldn’t? They are going to condemn themselves to hell! I just wish I could tell them that confession isn’t as hard as being away from the Eucharist. I just wish they would believe me that it’s better to be in communion with the Church. I’m going to write about this when I’m done. People have to know how important the Eucharist is.”
The cynic in me has a sharp retort. But the mother in me smiles. I’m so proud of my MIL for taking the high road, the right road. Some of the most stinging comments have come from people close to her. Still, she remains firmly rooted in what’s important and what she believes and knows to be true about the Church teaching. Questions? She marches straight in to see Father. He gives her an answer she’s not sure she understands? My phone rings, and my catechism and internet are hard at work (and then I march in to see Father the next day and clarify).
The facts aren’t what speak to my heart. The tears, the longing, the ache – that’s what makes me realize just how much I need the Eucharist. That’s what makes me realize that the separation my MIL is enduring is worth it. She sits in Adoration, she has told me, and she prays for strength. The woman has more strength than ten other people; she’s been through more in her life than anyone I know. But she assures me that this is harder than raising six kids, burying three grandkids, being married to an alcoholic for 36 years, and all the rest. She has no compunction kneeling as close to the altar as she can get, and crying in front of the entire congregation. Pride is nothing. Eucharist is everything.